Uber Under Criminal Investigation, Justice Dept. Confirms in Letter to Court

Isaac Cain
December 17, 2017

A subsidiary of Google, Waymo has accused Uber of unlawfully obtaining company secrets.

Waymo sued Uber in February for allegedly stealing its self-driving auto technology, but a federal court judge put the trial on hold last month after learning about the existence of a May 5 letter penned by Mr. Jacobs' attorneys as part of a settlement they successfully pursued following his firing weeks earlier. The document paints a picture of a team of employees dedicated to spying on rivals and "impeding" legal investigations into the company. According to the letter, the ride-share company's Threat Operations Unit was developed to help the company achieve its business goals, "through illegal conduct even though equally aggressive legal means were available to achieve the same end".

Uber has been in hot water over the last few months for some very unsavory allegations.

"Uber has engaged, and continues to engage, in illegal intelligence gathering on a global scale", Mr Jacobs wrote in the 37-page letter. The Department of Justice didn't reply to a request for comment. The latter details the former Uber employee's experiences at the company from March 2016 through April 2017. After his attorney sent the demand letter to Uber outlining potentially criminal activities within Uber's "strategic services group" and "marketplace analytics" teams, he and Uber reached a $4.5m settlement. Judge Alsup disagreed with this characterization, harshly criticizing the Uber legal team for not disclosing the letter in the first place.

While much of the "hacking" or other forms of surveillance appeared to rely on these types of automated systems, the company also carried out physical surveillance, including wiretaps, in order to identify competitors' advantages or weaknesses.

-Uber conducted surveillance of executives from a competing company, recording video and audio at private events in locations like hotels, according to the letter. Jacobs claimed that Uber recorded and observed private conversations among the executives including their real-time reactions to the news that Uber would receive $3.4bn from the Saudi government. Jacobs said during the hearing that he only had 20 minutes to review the letter before it was sent. Jacobs said that the team primarily worked overseas, but in the United States had researched "protest and threat groups targeting Uber".

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As part of its ongoing litigation with Alphabet's Waymo self-driving unit, a new letter from Uber's former manager of global intelligence makes startling accusations towards the ride-hailing company.

Mr Jacobs who was sacked earlier this year, made the explosive claims in a 37-page letter that sought a big payoff for being forced out of the company.

"I can no longer trust the words of the lawyers for Uber in this case", he said.

Because such a key piece of evidence had been withheld, Alsup delayed the start of the trial.

At the time, a spokeswoman for Waymo called the new evidence "significant and troubling" and welcomed the trial delay as an "opportunity to fully investigate this new, highly relevant information".

Intelligence was gathered, the letter claims, "to determine which political figures may have been supporting opposition groups in the taxi/transport sector", as well as to identify someone or some group that had been allegedly ordered to "begin targeting Uber vehicles for harassment and impoundment". "Jacobs himself said on the stand today that he was not aware of any Waymo trade secrets being stolen".

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